We need to encourage more timbre words. Metaphors are really useful and they can and should act as intensifiers rather than comparators. Teachers who used images and metaphorical language were deemed to be ‘old-fashioned’ and un-scientific, when the voice scientists came along and told us what was happening in the throat! That was all good in its way and we have to thank Sundberg and Titze and Sataloff and many others who have opened our eyes and ears to the complexities of singing.
But there has been a flattening out of vocal colours in singers of all genres, partly due to recording digitally, though that is changing, with the return of analogue.
We have to learn to encourage our students to play with their voices and develop more colours, appropriate to the text of course.
It is coming to the end of semester at University and the singers are getting nervous about their final dissertations. I never know how they will perform under pressure until it actually happens. Last week I had a very promising first year singer who appeared for a lesson 24 hours before her assessment singing with a tight jaw and bent neck! I had never seen this before. Stress she said, so I said “You’re stressed, so am I!? why are you suddenly tightening everything up just before you sing!!”
These are moments you have to think quickly to help them break out of a dangerous physical cycle where they could sing badly or worse do some damage. So in this instance I made her sing with her back against the wall so we got the head balanced again and the jaw loose and I made her promise not to tighten up in her recital. I think the surprise and the energy with which I spoke made her realise how dangerous the stress had become, especially when she is usually such a good performer. Exams do strange things to singers!
If the singer can overcome stress and use nervous energy to their advantage they can concentrate on the colours and the vibrancy of their sound, using the acoustic to explore the space for sound. But if they have no idea how to begin, because they haven’t been taught to ‘imagine’ and ‘intensify’, and their sound palette is limited to just a few descriptors like, sob, sigh, cry, belt, moan, they will only be able to draw with primary colours instead of blends and shades of colour.